What Doctors Think About the COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates

masked female doctor giving masked male patient a vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • Two COVID-19 vaccines are being reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a fast-track distribution.
  • States are planning to start rolling out vaccines, once approved, as soon as this month.

As COVID-19 vaccines become available, physicians will have to evaluate data to educate patients on them. None of the vaccines have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), though two are in the process. 

How do doctors actually feel about the COVID-19 vaccines in development and coming to the market?

It’s promising that multiple vaccines with high efficacy are in the works, says Amira Roess, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and global health at George Mason University.

Current Vaccine Efficacy Rates
Pfizer & BioNTech Moderna AstraZeneca & Oxford
95% 94.5% 70%

“What remains to be seen is whether the high efficacy translates into an equally impressive effectiveness once the vaccines are out in the real world,” Roess tells Verywell.

The complexity of vaccine delivery, including the fact that people need two doses of the vaccine, could impact the ultimate effectiveness of the vaccines once used by the public.

Pfizer’s vaccine requires ultra-cold storage at -94°F, adding “another layer of complexity to contend with,” Roess says. The Moderna vaccine will be shipped at -4°F, but it can be stable between 36° to 46°F for up to 30 days within the six-month shelf life. “These requirements mean that resource poor areas in the U.S. and most low-and middle-income countries will not have access to them,” she says.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine can be stored at refrigeration temperatures for up to six months, which could make it more accessible in certain regions without freezer infrastructure.

What This Means For You

Once the first vaccine is approved by the FDA, you can ask your doctor if he or she feels it's appropriate for you. Other vaccines may be FDA-approved soon after.

Vaccine Preference?

Roess says that patients will not have vaccine options for at least the early part of 2021, if not longer. This is because healthcare workers and elderly Americans in long-term care facilities will receive priority for the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines.

“If you take into account how many doses will be ready at the projected FDA EUA approval date, then we will not have enough doses for healthcare workers and older individuals right away,” Roess says.

Kathryn Jarvis, MD, a health care efficiency expert at Bed Beacon, tells Verywell that it’s important to think about when healthcare workers will be vaccinated. Healthcare workers typically are screened for fevers and not allowed to work until they are free from fever. If the vaccine causes common side effects such as fever and chills, timing vaccine distribution among them will be key to ensure proper staffing.

“As we try to balance treating our patients and also protecting our bodies, we should think about the timing of how we give healthcare workers the vaccine and our healthcare staffing,” she says. Jarvis says she plans to get the vaccine on the last day of her work week to maximize her ability to help patients, assuming she gets a fever and needs a few days to recuperate.

As for which vaccine Jarvis may prefer to give, she says doctors will have to compare the side effects of the vaccine to the disease.

“I believe it will be very powerful to put the side effects of the vaccines in one column and the side effects of COVID-19 in the other,” she says. “That would be an awesome visual to show risk/benefit.”

Ann Messer, MD, a family physician from Austin, Texas, tells Verywell she will be comfortable with any vaccine that garners FDA approval.

Messer was most impressed with preliminary data from Moderna's vaccine trial, which showed a 94.1% efficacy against symptomatic infection and 100% efficacy against severe disease.

She thinks the vaccine was studied long enough to show it will be effective in the short-term, but is a "little concerned" about long-term safety.

Leonard Pianko, MD, a cardiologist from Florida, said he plans to take the vaccine and set an example for his patients to follow. He has no preference, and says people should take the first one available.

"My goal will be to encourage all of my patients to be vaccinated though I am not sure we will be able to offer it at the office because of the temperature issue," he tells Verywell.

"With the vaccine, we have to assess the risk of getting COVID versus the risk of having serious side effects from the vaccine itself," Pianko explains. "The likelihood of getting COVID is very high today in America with 13 million people infected. The risks of side effects from the vaccine are very low, based on clinical trials, though it is possible as millions are vaccinated that some undiscovered side effects may appear. But these are so rare and cannot be predicted at this time."

Because he sees a lot of senior citizens in his practice, Pianko says he would "not only recommend the vaccine but strongly encourage them to take it."

What's Next For Vaccine Research and Development

Erika Schwartz, MD, an internist in New York City, tells Verywell she believes the AstraZeneca vaccine will be next in line apply for FDA authorization. She wouldn’t recommend one vaccine over the other at this point because none of them have been approved and thus released. All of the data is preliminary, she adds.

Without all the data, doctors say it’s difficult to say with certainty which vaccine may be better in certain populations.

Children are the lowest-risk population, but not all vaccines in development have been tested on children. Schwartz questioned the risk of giving the vaccine to children if it hasn’t been tested on them.

The Pfizer team is expanding testing on children 12 and older, and Moderna is expected to do something similar, according to Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Kids could see the vaccine by January, he said.

Until a vaccine is available, Schwartz recommends prevention practices such as avoiding large gatherings, practicing regular hand hygiene, wearing a mask, sleeping and exercising enough, eating a healthy diet, and avoiding alcohol.

“Prevention will help more than vaccines,” she says. 

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  1. Moderna. Moderna announces primary efficacy analysis in phase 3 COVE study for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate and filing today with U.S. FDA for emergency use authorization. Updated November 30, 2020.